Uttarakhand Govt to re-look into orders allowing use of asbestos pipes

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The Uttarakhand Government has ordered a third-party inquiry into a move to allow the use of asbestos pipes in water supply schemes of the state with certain restrictions.

Prakash Pant, Minister of Drinking Water & Sanitation and Finance, Government of Uttarakhand told that he has “ordered a third party inquiry” into the move to allow the use of AC Mazza pipes in drinking water supply schemes of the state.

On December 20, 2018, Bhajan Singh, Managing Director of Uttarakhand Peyjal Sansadhan Vikas Evam Nirman Nigam had issued order No. 2553 saying that “on October 9, 2018, a Committee constituted to consider the use of new material had approved that AC Mazza Pressure Pipes could be used with certain restrictions”.  The said Committee had suggested that use of AC Mazza Pressure Pipes could be appropriate for plain areas. Similarly, in boulder areas, these pipes could be used after sand is cushioned. The purpose was that point load was not transferred in boulder areas. Care has to be taken so that the entire length of asbestos pipes is laid on plain soil or sandy soil.  It suggested that the said pipes could be used according to “latest revisions” and keeping in view pricing factor.

Significantly, the circular issued by Bhajan Singh is in complete contrast to a letter No. 1621 issued by R.N.Verma, Chief Engineer (HQ), Uttarakhand Peyjal Sansadhan Vikas Evam Nirman Nigam dated August 22, 2009 which said that “in some projects of plain area, AC Pressure Pipe has been used for water supply purpose but the experience regarding pipe material is not very good”.

When told that asbestos is banned in most of the countries and in the majority of the Indian States, the Minister, Prakash Pant admitted, “He was not fully conversant about various technical aspects”.  He immediately wrote to Secretary, Arvind Singh Hayanki to get the matter examined from an independent third party committee.

Pant asked Bhajan Singh, Managing Director of Nigam to clarify on the circular. On his part, Bhajan Singh clarified that the orders were just to explore the usage of AC Mazza Pressure Pipes if found usable.  

An NGO has taken up the issue saying that asbestos is banned in most of the countries and in the majority of Indian States as well. Even Indian Railways is phasing out AC roofing sheets as per a policy decision taken by Research Design and Standards Organisation. There are reports that usage of AC pipes led to severe water losses and have carcinogenic effects. Little doubt that many states have discontinued use of AC pipes due to its rampant failure and water losses.  Also, the life of AC pipes as per various technical handbooks is less than 20 years as compared to 100 years of metallic pipes.  It is clear that if we compare life-cycle costs, the cost of metallic pipes would still be cheaper.

Even the circular issued by Bhajan Singh itself refers to the Indian Standard which says “necessary guidance regarding the selection of asbestos cement pressure pipes may be obtained from the Indian Standard ‘Guidelines for selection of asbestos cement pipes subject to external loads with or without internal pressure (Under Preparation). The question is “how in absence of such standard AC pipes can be used for pressure application”.

Eyes would be on the inquiry ordered to Secretary, Arvind Singh Hayanki by Minister, Prakash Pant and its outcome?